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Peter Pan (Hornchurch, Queen's Theatre)

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
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Tunes – real tunes – can seem in short supply these days where the latest musicals are concerned. This new adaptation of J M Barrie’s Peter Pan has a whole sequence of them beginning with “The crocodile song” and going on with “Building a wendy house” and “Mother will be there”. It's thanks to composer and musical director Steven Markwick – and that’s not to mention Vicky Ireland’s skilful filleting of the original and clever end-of-line rhythms.

Bob Carlton has directed it with a sure touch, aided by an extremely effective set by Norman Coates which makes clever use of the Queen’s Theatre’s grave-traps and provides a truly magical final tableau. There are a couple of stand-out performances, but the pull-together qualities of an ensemble of actor-musicians who can play off as well as with each other shouldn’t be underestimated.

In the title role Dylan Kennedy is the most limber of Peters, bringing a finely judged sense of quicksilver mischief, always on the dangerous edge of tipping over into being a downright feral creature . This makes his eventual self-exclusion from the real world totally credible. He’s well matched by Kate Robson-Stuart as a sweet-voiced and practical, as well as charming, Wendy, feet firmly on the ground even when she’s flying.

Other than the Darling children, the rest of the cast play multiple characters. Carlton’s role allocation doubles Barrie with Captain Hook (the excellent Jonathan Markwood) rather than the usual pairing with Mr Darling (played by Sam Kordbacheh). Alison Thea-Skot’s Mrs Darling has something of a show-stopper with her “Lullaby” while Natasha Moore doubles Tiger Lily and Tinker Bell (a naughty little light on the end of a rod).

Pecking order in the Darling nursery is firmly established by Matthew James Hinchcliffe’s John and Greg Last’s teddybear-hugging Michael. You’d have to raid the Pirates of the Caribbean archive to find a more motley crew than that provided by Simon Jessop as Smee, Callum Hughes (who is also the woolliest of Nanas), Kordbacheh and Thea-Skot.

The crocodile, sundry winged creatures and a mermaid are all rod puppets; personally, I’d have liked a rather bigger croc. Even for the youngest members of the audience, this telling of a familiar, too often reduced to pantomimic or Disneyfied proportions, seemed to be enthralling with some of the more adult concepts, such as responsibilities to others, taken on board quite naturally.


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